My first trip after a long time of not going anywhere led to my favourite city in the world, London.
It took me a long time to write this one, but better late than never. More than a month had passed, but I barely spent a whole week in one place since, and that along with being busy at work was tiring after such a long time of rarely going anywhere.
I’ve spent four days in London from 19th of March to the 22nd, but it was more like three, because the last day was only travelling home. It was a sunny spring weekend, not fully in accordance with the weather predictions, but since it turned out to be way nicer than the forecast, we didn’t mind. It wasn’t a trip packed with touristy things, we just wanted to spend those days with walking around the city, having some London experience and just “being there”.
We left Hungary early on Saturday morning, travelled with Ryanair, where masks were mandatory on board (I didn’t mind at all) and got to Stansted around 9:15 local time. It was actually the very first day after all travel restrictions due to Covid were lifted in the UK, so there were no forms to fill, we just got in line for the e-Passport check and got through very quickly. (Due to earlier reports of long standing in line, I thought it was post-Brexit, but not exactly, it must have been only the Covid safety measures, because I didn’t find anything different in the airport check compared to my pre-Brexit trips.) Getting out of the airport, we took the Stansted Express and headed towards Liverpool Street Station, which is about a 45-minute train ride.
Soon as we felt how great the weather was, back at the airport, we decided to later have lunch at a park. Our hotel was on Sussex Gardens, close to Paddington, so since it was almost noon when we dropped off our luggage, we headed to pick something to eat and walked over to Hyde Park which is close by. Although it was one or two weeks before everything got to be in full bloom, it certainly felt like spring already. We had coffee and a sandwich sitting on a bench in the sun and in beautiful surroundings and started to absorb the so familiar London vibes. After lunch we took a long walk around Hyde Park, through to Kensington Gardens and a bit on Kensington Road before returning to the hotel to check in and refresh before going out again.
We didn’t have any specific plans, so we just took the bus to Victoria, and walked from there first to Buckingham Palace (every London trip at one point must involve seeing if it’s still there – it was!), then to Piccadilly, from there along Regent Street to Oxford Street. We popped in to a few shops, but were mainly just window-shopping. There was a huge crowd on the streets and it was a weird experience for me. It was only two weeks or so since the mask mandates were lifted in Hungary, but I continued wearing a mask in crowds, and by crowds I mean lot smaller crowds than what we saw in London that evening. There was a swirling mass on Oxford Street, which of course was just what I remembered, but I don’t think I’ve been in such a crowd ever since the start of the pandemic two years ago. It didn’t feel normal. We got back to the hotel tired and ready to rest up for the next days’ adventures.
We started the next day with a full English breakfast. Whenever I travel, I like to book the hotel with breakfast, so I can leave for my programmes with the first meal covered. Although I am generally a breakfast person, this is not the kind of breakfast I usually have. But every time I’m in the UK, I conclude that it wouldn’t hurt to have it more often. It’s delicious, nutritious and gives you enough energy to get through more than the first half of the day.
We didn’t have any scheduled programmes for Sunday either, we were planning a lot of walking and a bit of shopping. Since the weather forecast wasn’t as bright as the weather itself turned out to be, we had plans in case of rain, but it was so sunny and warm, that we opted for long walks outside instead. On Sunday we took a long walk in Notting Hill first, wanted to go to the Portobello Road Market, but had to realise it was Sunday when the market is closed (oops). We popped in to a few shops anyway, but it wasn’t the full market experience. After that, we took a long walk in Covent Garden. Then we went to Harrods which takes a while to walk through, although this time we mostly focused on the food and groceries section. After that we took a stroll in Chelsea, then went back to the City Centre to walk around the major sightings of London (just to “be there”). We ended the day with a Southbank walk along the Thames.
We had all our scheduled programmes planned for Monday. Since we had a mid-morning appointment at Sky Garden it was convenient to start the day at the Bank of England, not as a tourist, but we had an expired banknote to exchange. This time it wasn’t mine, but could have been. Since I know I will always go back to London I never exchange unused money (I don’t use much cash anyway), but check every time whether I have something that’s expired. The Bank of England counter is open on weekdays, but there are other ways to exchange old banknotes too. Whenever I go to the bank though, it’s a nice experience, kind and helpful people work there, and you can catch a glimpse of the historic building inside. There is also a museum next door, if you want more than just a glimpse.
From the bank, Sky Garden was only a short walk. There was a bit of a queue there, but we got through quickly and went straight up to the 34th floor. It wasn’t our first time at Sky Garden, which is London’s highest public garden, on top of an iconic, walkie-talkie shaped building in the City, and it’s free to visit. It is actually a garden, with lots of greenery and a 360° view around London. After walking around and admiring the view, we sat down to have an overpriced coffee (you pay for coffee with a view here) before our next programme. Again it was a very nice weather, so the view was great, the last time I’ve been there was more foggy. But next time I’ll try to think ahead and schedule a sunset appointment, I know that’s beautiful to experience there.
There was a slight schedule change on Monday, because we had an appointment for a traditional afternoon tea in the afternoon, but the day before we spotted an ad of this exhibition that we heard about before and planned to visit whenever available. We had no idea it was available in London, but when we learned we decided to skip the afternoon tea for now and see the exhibition instead. It was located near the Old Spitalfields Market, which is not a long walk from Sky Garden, and we were still in the mood for a walk in London anyway. We got there early, so we looked around the market first, it’s a nice old-fashioned market, I’ve never been there before. The exhibition itself was indeed an immersive experience, with special ways to showcase the work of Van Gogh. It was early afternoon when we finished there, we took a bus back to the city, but got off in Holborn, to take one last walk in this rather busy part of London. Once back in the heart of the city, we did some last minute shopping, then went back to the hotel to refresh before our evening programme.
On our last evening we watched Jersey Boys in Trafalgar Theatre. I am not much of a musical fan, and I had no idea what this play was about beforehand (although of course I knew Four Seasons), but I really enjoyed it. The music was good, the actors were good, and I never knew this story before, so it was interesting. (Speaking of London theatre, Aaron Sorkin’s To Kill a Mockingbird opened on Westend a week later, and I am seriously thinking about going sometime just to see it.) Our last return back to the hotel was bittersweet, because there were so much left to do in London that we didn’t have time for this time.
On Tuesday morning we had our breakfast at the hotel and left immediately to Liverpool Street and from there to Stansted. The flight back was smooth again, although delayed a bit. I don’t have any regrets in terms of “we should have done this instead of that”, but I wish we’ve had a little more time to visit more places. All in all, it was a much needed break, filling my cups with new energy and relaxing at the same time.
I mentioned in a previous post that I brought Virgina Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway to this trip. The book is not just set in London, it almost feels like London is a character in the story. Its leading lady lives on Victoria Street, we follow her and the other main character through the streets and squares and parks of London. It is full of quotes about how great the London atmosphere is, what is it about this or that place that makes it great. It was so great reading when I visited the same places and walked the same routes the exact same day! I started reading it on the plane out, read a few pages before sleep every night, and read it on the underground where there is no phone service (unless you use TfL’s service I guess, but I’ve never tried it) so there is not much else to do. I wasn’t alone there, generally I don’t like to read books on city transport when I’m alone, because I tend to get caught up in the story and forget to get off in time. 😅 Anyway, what I am trying to say is that it is a good idea to read a book about the place you’re visiting, it adds to the experience. I already know what I will read on my next trip to Vienna, whenever that is and I will think about this for other places too. Do you have any book recommendations to match with travelling? Let me know! I am still trying to resume my pre-pandemic life though, when I always knew where my next travel would be. I am in the planning phase in many aspects right now, I’ll keep you posted.